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Our Approach


A Wicked Problem

Nutrient pollution is a “wicked” problem, one that occurs at various spatial scales, over long reaches of time, and has multiple and often diffuse causes and effects.  It involves a complex, multidisciplinary approach to problem solving.


CNS has taken that approach, developing an innovative, diverse and highly collaborative research team of soil scientists, agronomists, animal scientists, agricultural engineers, watershed managers, resource economists, policy specialists, landscape architects, geospatial analysts, hydrologists, aquatic ecologists, modelers, information technology experts, and community outreach specialists.


Click here to watch the entire video on the CNS approach.





Seven research teams, each with their own area of expertise, worked collaboratively to provide tools and information to aid watershed stakeholders in making informed, strategic watershed management decisions.





Study Watersheds

Our research was focused in four small study watersheds that are representative of important geographies within the Chesapeake Bay basin: Spring Creek (Ridge & Valley karst); Mahantango Creek (Ridge & Valley shale); Conewago Creek (Peidmont); and Manokin River (Coastal Plain).

Click here to learn more about these watersheds.



Exploring Solutions through Shared Discovery

A key goal of CNS is to develop and test tools for evaluating tactics and strategies for reducing nutrient pollution. Tactics address enterprise level challenges - the best management practices influencing nutrient retention and loss on the land. Strategies refer to solutions that address system level challenges, primarily at landscape and watershed scales.


Our work has tested suites of tactics and strategies called scenarios in selected watersheds, using models and best science developed by our integrated research teams. These scenarios were developed through our "shared discovery" approach, where researchers and community stakeholders explore and develop the research questions and design together so results and best inform watershed decision making. Each scenarios predicts changes in nutrient and sediment loads, water quality indicators, aquatic ecosystem services, and resulting economic costs and benefits.  Click here to learn more about our scenarios. 



Our innovative approach provides information to watershed managers allowing them to make  more informed, strategic decisions. It demonstrates a problem solving process transferable to practitioners wrestling with the “wicked” problem across the globe. Click here to learn more about our findings.